Tis The Season for Black Friday Union Organized Protests

Ashley Pratte
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Posted: Nov 24, 2015 9:53 AM
Tis The Season for Black Friday Union Organized Protests

No surprise here. The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is planning their annual Black Friday strike at Walmart centers around the country – with a twist. This year, more than 100 Walmart workers plan to fast for 15 days prior to protesting on Friday, in what’s sure to be an interesting PR stunt, but what’s dramatically different this year is that it’s unclear who is captaining the ship. OUR Walmart has been in disarray for months, torn apart by internal bickering and conflicting leadership.

Originally, OUR Walmart was established by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) as a front group with the stated mission to protest what members deem “unfair labor practices” at the giant retailer. OUR Walmart derived its funding from UFCW, to the tune of between $7 to $8 million a year, according to internal documents. Unable to successfully organize Walmart employees, the campaign was an attempt to sneak in the backdoor.

Initially, OUR Walmart acted as if it wasn’t a “labor organization,” e.g. a union, and stated that it was not officially trying to unionize Walmart workers. However, the group admitted in legal filings that it considers itself a “labor organization,” and eventually filed union disclosures with the Labor Department. Other alcoylades include being cited by courts in several states for illegally picketing and in some cases, the organization was barred from trespassing on Walmart property. Based on their tactics, it’s clear that the end goal of OUR Walmart is to unionize Walmart’s 1.4 million employees, despite public statements to the contrary.

Earlier this year, a newly-elected UFCW board ran on the promise of ending the out-of-control spending of the OUR Walmart campaign, slashed its funding in half and fired OUR Walmart’s longtime leaders Dan Schlademan and Andrea Dehlendorf. With funding from the AFL-CIO, Schlademan claimed to be relauching a new OUR Walmart in conjunction with a long list of allied worker center groups, leaving many of his former colleagues outraged. Meanwhile, the UFCW continues to financially support, albeit on a smaller level, their own version of OUR Walmart, separate from Schlademan’s “new” OUR Walmart. Both groups are now fighting over the name.

So who exactly “is” OUR Walmart? We’re not really sure, but it’s certainly not the actual 1.4 million employees of Walmart, only a handful of which are affiliated with the group.

Walmart is already attuned to the needs of its workers, which is why the company has committed to spending $1 billion this year to raise wages for employees. Earlier this year they raised their minimum wage to at least $9 an hour—24 percent higher than the federal minimum—and will increase wages next February to least $10 an hour. So what, exactly, is the purpose of OUR Walmart’s Black Friday protesting? Union membership, and optics.

OUR Walmart, new or old, isn’t about workers; it’s never been about workers. It’s about keeping organizers on payroll and attempting to snag union dues from the 1.4 million workers of Walmart.